Monday, December 18, 2006

Big honking chicken tractor

Last year I did an experiment where I grew some OP corn and some cowpeas.

This year I plan to scale the whole thing up quite a bit.

Last week we move our laying hens to the spot where the row crop patch will be.

Into this space we dumped most of the hay that got rained on last summer.

The idea is that between a six inch deep layer of mulch hay and thirty some chickens scratching around and fertilizing the place, the ground will be plowed and far better for growing things in than the beach sand that we have in place of topsoil in this part of the country.

I plan to plant corn in rows thirty inches apart with cowpeas between each row.

Both these photos show the same spot of ground.

I’m hoping that with the mulch and the chickens I can get away with just sticking the seeds into the ground. I don’t own a plow and don’t really want to.

I’m hoping for two crops, one about the forth of July, one in the late fall.

I’ll harvest the summer crop by turning newly weaned lambs into it, a little at a time. They can eat everything down to the ground. This should keep them from loosing condition at weaning time, and even put some weight on them.

The fall crop should help finish them.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Like lambs to the slaughter

This is not “like” lambs to slaughter, it IS lambs to the slaughter.

Five ram lambs whet to the butcher shop the Tuesday after thanksgiving.

These five were sold to six different customers. Two people split the largest one.

We picked up three of them today, including the big one with two owners.

One of these is in our freezer here at the farm so that the lady that bought it can pick it up at her leisure. She has an intense job that made it impossible for her to get it during the week.

We still have eight market lambs left. Any that have not been sold before the Dec 16 livestock sale go to auction then.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Winter Annuals

Conspiring with one of my neighbors last weekend we planted some winter annuals on parts of both our places.

We planted by simply broadcasting seed on pastures that had been deliberately over grazed this fall. Then we used a drag to try and cause better seed soil contact. We planted equal parts oats, rye grass and wheat.

They tell me that we should have done this a bit earlier according to the University studies. Considering we have had no rain since I was a good bit younger (or so it seems) I don’t see how it could matter.

Now we just have to wait and see what happens. If we do get rain I expect the resulting growth will help a lot in the early spring. Otherwise we just spread so much birdseed.

You pay your money and you take your chances, that’s farming.

This is the first time I’ve tried to do this, but it’s something that was commonly done in the area when farms were more self-sufficient than they are now.

It was also very common to make hay on a small scale the way I am doing it. These days most of the cattle farms just buy hay. This year there was a drought year and there is no hay to buy.

There will be a lot of brood cows going to market before spring.

We have hay, enough to get us through even if the winter annuals don’t perform well, barley. This is not because I’m smarter than most, but just because I like old hay equipment and doing things the way the old folks did them.

It’s better to be lucky than good.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A Different Christmas Poem

I usually limit this blog to farming related topics, but that's my rule, so I get to break it. Enjoy.

A Different Christmas Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts..
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."

"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.

I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.

I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother..
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?

It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.

To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.

Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regiment
OIC, Logistics Cell One
Al Taqqadum, Iraq

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Farmers Market

After two weeks I judge the new farmers market to be a success.

No one is getting rich there, especially me, but it allows me to sell all my eggs and get some good face time in with potential customers for other things.

I need to get some pictures or the actual market.

It runs each Friday from 4 to 7 PM. Midmorning I go up and park the trailer as a sort of announcement. This is the trailer set up in my barn. I thought a hayride look would be good.

Monday, November 13, 2006

My public demands it!

My last blog post was quite some time ago indeed. Today I got this comment:

Cheryl said...

Now, you can't just leave your 2 blog fans in suspenders like this. How about an update? ;)

WA state
How about that? I’ve been missed. Time to get back into gear.

There have been lots of things happening on and around the farm with the obvious exception of blog postings.

We have established something of a new routine here with the sheep herd. At the MSA meeting (see previous post) we learned a lot about internal parasites and how to manage them.

The ofending vermin is Haemonchus contortus, commonly known as the barberpole worm.

This visious little beasty is a major problem here with our hot wet climate. We have lost several sheep to this bug.

One fact about how it works struck me. It lays on the ground and is rather inert until the grass becoms wet. It then “swims” up the grass blade where it can be eaten by a sheep.

If the grass is dry it is very unlikely that the sheep will ingest the parasite.

Our sheep tend to graze heavly right at daybreak, no doubt because it is cooler than later in the day. Dew is usually very heavy here. If you walk a pasture early in the day it will soak through your clothes.

Sheep in the dry lot

The new routine is this, in the evening the sheep get penned up in the dry lot not to be release til the dew burns off the next day, typically about 10:00 AM.

We are now at the beginning o f breeding season. The ewes are divided into two groups, each with one of the rams. The market lambs are in yet another group.

The ewes and the rams have been on opposite sides of a fence for a week or so. They have been making kissy noises back and forth all that time.

Judging by the activity so far, lambing season should be short and early next spring.

Three of the 14 market lambs have been sold to 4 different people, the ultimate consumers.

I'm still working out the logistics of getting animals to the butcher and meat to the customers but we will get it done somehow.

I just came back from a visit to the butcher shop I'll be working with. It is a very nice little operation. Clean and professionally run. I was impressed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fall 2006 Florida MSA Conference

MSA is an acronym for Meat Sheep Alliance.

The fall conference was a two-day affair last Friday and Saturday, October 20 and 21.

Actually Thursday was an optional trip to the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie Georgia so it could be said that the conference was three days long. We didn’t take the trip so can’t comment on that part of the event.

Other than the field trip, the conference was held at Lake City Community College.

I was surprised to see that part of the setup included quite a number of live animals, specifically sheep and sheep dogs.

Lake City has no Ag school and no ready-made facilities for containing livestock. Pens were set up in and around a large truck garage.

Several talks and classes were given by a lineup of imported heavy hitters in the realm of sheep husbandry. Several Veterinarians with advanced specialties, as well as PhD’s in Breeding and Genetics.

When I listen to land grant University types talking about farm policy I either get angry or go to sleep. These guys were not that type.

These folks are over educated farm kids with a passion for livestock and dirt (among other things) under their fingernails. Coming from me, this is a complement.

We took a class in FAMACHA, which is an approach to parasite control that minimizes the use of anthelmintics (chemical wormers).

We saw a herding dog demonstration.

The dogs were show dogs primarily.

Trailer, Sheep, Dog .. No fences .. don't try this at home.

Farm dogs do some (fewer) of the same things, but they do them all day long (if needed) and in all sorts of conditions.

I need one of these (farm type) dogs.

Different breeds of sheep common in this area were present.

Florida Native a.k.a. Gulf Coast Native sheep

Monday, October 23, 2006

Eggs and other farm stuff

A lot has been going on here at the A3 farm, with the obvious exception of keeping the blog entries up to date.

My bride and I both took last week off from our non-farm jobs and mostly spent the time on farm related tasks (big surprise).

We did a few things to get ready from the opening of the farmers market on November third.

We are selling eggs at the market. We plan to use my brides lap top computer to show photos and maybe videos of our production system.

I made a video that proves 1) Steven Spielberg is safe in his job, and 2) I’m a sucker for corny old Bob Wills tunes, even those done by Asleep at the Wheel.

It is in Windows Media Format.

Link to video

We also spent two days at the fall meeting of the Florida Meat Sheep Alliance, held this time at Lake City Community College. I’ll do a separate post about this. I got some good pictures.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Bovine boogie

I don’t own a bull. I own two cows and a calf.

My next-door neighbor keeps 10 cows and a bull. His bull is a nice one that he named turbo. Every bit of two thousand pounds of vary large farm animal.

We often help each other out, I check his stock when he leaves town for example.

Last year he let me run my cows in with his to get them bred. We did this at midsummer when he had more grass than he could use.

This year rain has been scarce, except when I am trying to make hay of course. His pasture is not holding up too well.

My ground is still under stocked and I have some grass to spare. So this year we are running our cattle together on some of my ground. We turned them all in on Monday.

Just now I came by and saw my two cows and his bull lounging under the big shade tree.

Is it just my optimistic nature, or do they look like they have all just finished having a cigarette?

Home made peeps

A while ago I figured out that in order to sell eggs at the new farmers market I would need to offer them as fertilized hatching eggs rather than table eggs.

This is, for the most part, a dodge to avoid AG department busybodies who seem to believe that eggs come from factories and therefore prohibit anyone who doesn’t have a factory from selling eggs. They don’t know about chickens apparently.

Well, I may be forced to play wink and nod, but I wanted to know if such a claim would be true. So I borrowed a small incubator from a friend and installed four-dozen eggs in it.

I keep two roosters with my laying hens, so the eggs should indeed be fertile. Up to now I have never hatched any.

Well, I more or less forgot about them. Every few days I’d roll them around in the incubator. I lost track of when I put them in there.

Yesterday they started to hatch. I knew they were supposed to hatch of course, but I was still surprised.

I was at the feed store yesterday buying feed for the laying hens. It never entered my mind to get chick starter.

I went out just now and got starter feed, then put the ones that have hatched into the brooder.

Ten have hatched so far.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Aerial Photography courtesy of google earth

If you have never played with google earth then you still have a good bit to learn about wasting time.

Having said that, if you are lucky enough to live in a place where the satellites take a close look it is possible to get some good aerial photos of home (or just about anywhere else).

I pulled this photo of our farm and did an edit of it. Cool, huh?

I added indications of where the rotational grazing paddocks are, where water is available, and where the various buildings are.

The upper and lower left is adjoining land that we don’t use. The center left is land that belongs to my neighbor that we graze. It is subdivided into two paddocks at the moment. The large rectangle at the right is our land.

Monday, October 02, 2006

A busy weekend for farm work.

We moved the laying hens first thing Saturday morning.

Chickens in thier new location

Then we went off to Lake City to buy a new breeding ram.

Our friends Lewis and Janice had several rams they were willing to sell.

We picked out a nice Katahdin ram about a year and a half old.

The new Katahdin ram (click on photo to enlarge)

Katahdin is a hair sheep breed (no wool therefore no shearing required) that does fairly well in our climate.

Sunday we did a bunch of fencing work replacing some two-strand electric twine paddock fences with three-strand 14-gage aluminum wire.

These fences needed to be upgraded because some of the twine was failing from UV exposure, and because we now know that this is where we want the fence to be for quite a while into the future.

We were not sure where the best place was when we put in the twine fencing. Twine can be moved, wire cannot.

Some of the new three strand fence

In the evening we penned up the cattle in the barn. The Vet is coming today to vaccinate the calf and to de-horn its mama. The mama is a fairly tame beast, but I don’t need to get gored even by accident.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More hay

I cut about five more acres of hay Wednesday and Thursday evenings, raked it Friday, and baled it up on Saturday.

The baler had a problem with the knotter, but only after the job was almost finished.

I just stopped at that point and arranged to get it fixed.

By 8:30 or so Saturday it was all in the barn.

My bride is a very accomplished hay stacker.

I just drive the truck and make helpful suggestions.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Funky old cedar tree

I was cutting hay last evening and admiring the weird old tree in the back paddock.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Make hay while the sun shines

Well, at least while the rain holds off.

The forecast at midweek last week was for rain Wednesday followed by clear dry weather until at least today.

It did indeed rain Wednesday, but from then it was cloudy most of the day and even a bit threatening in the late afternoons. But here’s the thing, no actual rain.

This set up a rare occurrence here on the A3 farm, hay that gets from the field to the barn without getting rained on at all.

I cut two paddocks, one Thursday evening and one Friday evening.

I raked them both up on Saturday. One was bailed Saturday the other Sunday.

We loaded it all in the barn Sunday, the first batch early, the second batch in the late evening.

It is a bit easier to work outside now that the high temperatures for the day is just in the high eighties.

That’s about ten degrees cooler than it has been. Morning and evenings are really quite pleasant.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Selling eggs

I’ve written here about the fact that a new farmers market is being established near here and my interest in selling eggs there.

Here are some interesting developments on that front.

As is often the case in the Byzantine realm of public regulation selling eggs is both allowed and forbidden.

First the forbidden part, sent to the market manager as the result of official inquiry:

Guidelines for Selling Eggs

1) Facility must have an annual food permit.
2) Facility must have an approved water and sewage system that meets requirement for a food processor. A residential system is not acceptable.
3) Facility must be separate from living quarters.
4) Facility must have hot and cold water of sufficient quantity to meet processing requirements.
5) Processor must use a USDA approved shell egg sanitizer and have the appropriate test kit.
6) Facility must be equipped with equipment to properly wash and air dry the eggs. The temperature of the wash water must always be 10 degrees F or greater than the temperature of the eggs. The temperature of the wash water must be a minimum of 90 degrees F. The temperature of the approved sanitizer must be at least 10 degrees F greater than the wash water temperature. Appropriate records must be maintained for this procedure.
7) Facility must meet all requirements of the Food Code.
8) Facility must have a three compartment sink to wash, rinse, and sanitize equipment.
9) Eggs cannot be sold in cartons. They can only be sold in bulk or in flats.
10) Facility must have cooling capability to store the eggs at 41 degrees F or less.
11) A placard must be displayed at the point of sale stating the following: “These eggs have not been graded as to quality and weight”. The placard must be not smaller than 7 inches by 7 inches in size.
12) The unclassified eggs (washed eggs which have not been graded for size and quality) may have no more checks, dirties, leakers, or loss than those allowed for Florida Grade B eggs.
13) Nest eggs (eggs that have not been washed, sized, or graded for quality) may not be sold to retail outlets, consumers, or public eating places.

1, 2006

What I get from this is that no one has told that Ag Dept folks about chickens. They think eggs come from factories and if you don’t have a factory you can’t sell eggs.

Next comes the allowed part:

Sell the eggs as fertile hatching eggs. Meaning that they are intended to be used to hatch new chicks and are therefore not food. The “guidelines” above then do not apply.

Then of course if someone buys such an egg and then in total disregard for all public health guidelines, actually eats it, the vendor is not involved.

I’m not sure which side of the looking glass this is, but it is your tax dollars at work.

OK so what about that hay

So this is how things turned out with the continuing saga of the back hay field.

I got most of it baled up, all but what would have been 15 or 20 bales + or -.

Out of that most was not feed quality, so I have maybe 50 bales of feed hay and 125 or 150 bales of mulch.

I would have preferred to use it all as feed but I have use for mulch.

On top of that is the fact that this pasture has been under grazed for the past few years, and when it was cut the grass was just left to decompose in the field. The result was a lot of thatch over the turf.

A lot of that thatch wound up in this hay. Getting it up off the field will do very good things for the pasture allowing the rain to soak in better and the soil to breath a bit, all good.

What I intend to do with all that mulch is to spread it in a thick layer over and area I intend to plant in corn and cowpeas next spring. I let it sit that way all winter, probably run chickens over the area. That should kill the grass and retain moisture in the soil so I can plant it no till in the spring, no need to plow or any of that. That’s my theory anyway; we’ll see how it goes.

Monday, August 28, 2006


It seems like I spent the whole weekend removing and attaching implements on the back of the tractor.

I took the mower off, put the rake on, took the rake off, and attached the baler. You get the idea.

I finished cutting the hay Friday evening. Then of course it rained shortly after I finished. When hay is freshly cut rain doesn’t damage it nearly as much as if it happens after it is dry.

I raked it up it up Saturday morning then waited for it to finish drying out. I’m still waiting.

It has not rained on the hayfield since Friday evening late. I’m not sure the grass can tell, it is as humid as the bottom of a lake. It’s just not drying out.

If I’m going to get it baled and off the field while it still makes good feed I’ll need better luck than I’ve had so far. I may have a large load of mulch on my hands.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

More hay to make

The weather forecast is for hot and humid conditions with 30 to 40 percent chance of afternoon or evening thunderstorms.

This was for forecast in June and will be the forecast until October. Unless there is a hurricane bearing down on us, that is Florida in the summer time.

I check the forecast frequently before I try to go out and do farm work. I have no idea why.

Tuesday evening shortly after five o’clock I came out of the bathroom and saw through the south window, out of the corner of my eye, without really paying attention, some calves my neighbor keeps in the pasture across the road from my house running more or less in my direction.

I intended to go out and start to cut hay in the back pasture.

I had spent all afternoon in my office with a good view to the north. The sky was partly cloudy. That means I could look at big black clouds or clear blue sky, my choice and no need to move my head much.

I went to the front door, put on my hat, opened the door and noticed the lambs in our front pasture running towards me. They were trying, without success, to outrun the rain formed into a squall line moving up the driveway. The calves across the road were already soaked and had given up the race.

It rained for less than an hour. The rain gauge in the front flower bed recorded just over and inch.

Wednesday just past noon another brief shower gave us a soaking. By about six o’clock I was out cutting hay. The tractor doesn’t kick up much dust under these conditions you see.

With our sandy soil and temperatures in the nineties, things get tolerably dry quickly.

Anyway, so much for the drought.

I got the field a bit less than half cut.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Hay in the barn

The over the hill gang showed up as promised Monday to do all the adjustments on the hay baler.

They got here a little before noon and left about three o’clock.

When they left, not only were the adjustments made, all the hay in the field was baled and stacked in the barn. All this while I was stuck in my office with a phone in my ear.

Who says you can’t get good help these days!

It was a fairly small load of hay, less than 50 bales, but it looked better than I thought it would after being rained on.

I went right back out last evening and mounted the mower back on the tractor and sharpened the blades.

I intend to start cutting the larger field all the way at the back of our land this evening.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Making Rain

I’m going to rent myself out as a rainmaker.

If I go to some desert area, all that needs to happen to turn it into a beach is for me to cut hay.

It’s been so dry here for most of the summer that the sand fleas are farting dust, and now this.

Friday evening about dusk one of those little thunderstorms that is about 100 yards wide dumped about an inch of rain on my hayfield.

I turned the windrows over Saturday morning, but there is so much humidity in the air nothing is drying out. There was another quick shower in the afternoon but I don’t think it made any difference.

It will be Monday before it’s ready to bale.

All suited up with no way to make hay.

Monday, when I go back to being a computer geek instead of a farmer.

Oh well, the joys of farming part time are many.

My crew, the world famous over the hill gang, a.k.a. Misters Cooney and Nelson are going to make enough hay to insure the equipment is all adjusted up and working properly. This is because they worked on the knotter and bale chamber over the winter.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Making Hay

Last year I had trouble putting up hay, getting enough time without rain for the hay to cure was almost impossible. The best hay I put up had been rained on once.

So far this year it looks like that wont be a problem. It has been so dry that in some places it is barley necessary to cut it to get it to dry out. It is almost straw in the field.

I’m starting with the center field on our land. I cut it Tuesday evening, raked it last night. The plan is to bale it up Saturday.

This is just a small field, about three acres. It is also the only field I baled last year.

It produced about 250 bales then, it will not produce nearly as much this year.

The plan is to bale up another field next week that is just less that twice this big next week. That is if everything goes well with this first field.

Monday, August 14, 2006

About time!

Regular readers of this blog (Hi Mom!) probably think I’ve died or broke my typing finger or something.

I’m here and all my digits are in working order.

What we (the whole local part of the family and myself) have done however is something that keepers of livestock almost never get to do, that is to leave the farm for several days at a time.

We all went out to Colorado for a family event that was a combination family reunion and celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary for my aunt and uncle.

Our friend and sometimes co-conspirator Mr. Cooney came by and took care of the daily chores and checked on all the critters.

That made it possible. We are grateful and very lucky to have such friends.

Recent farm news:

Friends with a straight run batch of Buff-Orrington chickens brought the cockerels over to be converted from obnoxious little ankle peckers into tasty little fryers.

The job was done with very little trouble in just a couple of hours thanks to the whiz bang plucking machine.


We had a bad episode where the some of the sheep developed internal parasites that had become resistant to the Ivomec drench we have been using.

We wormed them at the same time we weaned the lambs. I miss diagnosed the problem as weaning stress, the result being three dead sheep.

I did eventually figure out what was going on and re-treated all those that needed it with a different drug.

They all seem to have responded well to that treatment.


This week’s goal is to get the hay crop underway. I plan to cut evenings this week, rake on Friday evening and bale over the weekend.

We have been struggling with very little rain lately, almost but not quite a full-blown drought.

I have noticed that one thing that is more effective than a rain dance or even scheduling a parade is for me to cut hay.

That has been known to cause flash floods. It would almost be worth it.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Chicken Labels

Sunday afternoon it rained.

I was pretty much worn out from all that working in the heat so I took that for an excuse to flop down in my easy chair and look at the TV.

You have to understand that while I do look at the tube from time to time, it has been many years since I was able to sit through most of the nonsense it shows. I just look at documentaries and ball games, and those filtered through the TiVo.

I wound up looking at a couple of farm shows from RFDTV. They were conventional Agribusiness shows put on by different State Farm Bureau organizations.

This all got me thinking about chickens.

According to Farm Bureau the current price for eggs is thirty some cents per dozen. Broilers are going for a similar price per pound. Really.

That’s the whole story from the Commodity Ag report. What is not part of that number I feel sure is the fact that I get 2.50 a pound for broilers and the same price for a dozen eggs.

I recently read a blurb on the Internet posted by my State Extension Service that stated flatly that there were no independent egg producers in my State. None, really.

The poultry industry, be it eggs or broilers, is one of the worlds most tightly integrated markets. It all goes thorough two or three huge companies. Farmers contract with them to raise poultry under tightly controlled circumstances in monstrous numbers.

There are more people raising small numbers of chickens in farmyards and suburban backyards by far than there are factory style poultry farmers. Of course the factory farmers raise such large numbers of birds that they account for the overwhelming majority of the poultry out there.

It seems likely to me that even the Extension Service people are aware that some people have backyard flocks. If pressed they would probably admit that it is possible that some of the eggs and meat from these flocks is bought and sold.

This activity doesn’t get included in the numbers because somehow it doesn’t count. It is not agribusiness. I’m not arguing that it should count; I’m not arguing at all, I’m just making observations.

I was at a grocery store near here a while ago. I noticed that they had more than the standard eggs on offer. They had brown eggs, cage free eggs, organic eggs, and a few other variations.

Someone has figured out that some people will pay a premium price for eggs that are special. Clearly the shopper is being invited to believe that these eggs are produced in a way that is closer to a backyard flock than a food factory.

In the last decade or so many laws have been passed controlling the clams made on those fancy egg carton labels.

This was not done for the benefit of those keepers of backyard flocks.

It was done to help the big integrators pretend they are keepers of backyard flocks, or near enough as to make no difference.

This, it seems to me, is the whole point of the “organic food” industry.

Back in the day if someone told you that something was organic, it was a simple if somewhat imprecise way of saying that it was produced using old fashioned, artisan techniques, and was not immersed in petrochemicals or hosed down with any sort of nuclear waste.

Now if you see a food label that claims the contents are organic, what is required for that product to qualify for that label is precisely defined by statute, but probably does not mean what the casual customer thinks it means.

It is a sham intended to make the customer think he or she is getting something they are not.

To get through all the red tape required to qualify for organic labeling requires resources that are not available to small-scale producers, absolutely including the willingness to wade through all that bureaucracy.

If you imagine organic food, I bet the image you conjure up is of items that do not even have labels.

For someone who cares where his or her food comes from, the only sure way to know is to raise it your self or get it directly from the producer. This would have to be a producer who has shown you the details of production, or at least earned your trust.

Agribusiness can’t do this. What they can do is come up with whatever sort of marketing drive that folks seem to like.

That’s what organic labeling is.

Weekend Update

This weekend we weaned the lambs. We sorted them off from their mothers and moved the mothers in with the dry ewes. We left the lambs where they were, in the barn and dry lot. Before we separated them they had access to the whole paddock that the barn is in, now they don’t. The ewes are about 100 yards away.

This is not fence line weaning, but there has been a bit less trauma than I expected. As expected, the ewes are more upset by it than the lambs.

The next project was to finish putting a floor in the hoop house the laying hens use for roosting. The hoop house is made from two cattle panels bent over a 8ft by 8ft frame with a tarp over the top. It has chicken wire walls on the ends with a door in one end. There is nothing inside but roosting perches. I have a separate little structure for the nesting boxes, and all the feed and water is outside.

The reason for the floor is to make it easy to move the chickens from place to place. The floor is 1 x 2 inch cage wire over 2 x 4 inch floor joists. It is not necessary to clean it out because the poop just falls through the wire floor to the ground.

To move the chickens I just go out after dark and shut the door. The next morning I can just tow the whole thing behind my pickup to a new location.

We did this Sunday morning shifting them to the garden spot near the house. The garden is done for now until the temperatures cool down a bit in the fall. I picked all the corn and most of the cowpeas but left the corn stalks and pea plants intact. This gives the chickens some shade and interesting places to scratch around in.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Processing Poultry

Last weekend I processed the first batch of broiler chickens we have raised this year.

The good news is that all the paying customers got the chickens they wanted and seemed very happy about it. The bad news is that there was none left for me.

We need more chickens and soon to fix that.

I made a little video of the process, it runs a little over 12 minutes. If you have any sort of broadband connection and don’t mind the realities of converting live birds into food then you may want to have a look. It is in windows media format.

Chicken Processing video clip

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fourth of July weekend

You may have noticed that posting is getting more and more sparse as summer comes on. That is not because nothing is going on, it’s because so much is going on I just haven’t been taking the time to write about it.

Dave, my best pal from our old address, came up with his family for part of the Fourth of July weekend.

It was especially good to see his oldest son Alex, who was on a short leave after finishing his second year at West Point.

Cadets don’t get summers off. It just amazes me that some one so young can have so much on the ball.


The big news as to farming is the new gadget we just got. A Chinese mousetrap for sheep that allows us to trim hoofs without getting beat up.

We wormed all the lambs and wet ewes and trimmed all the hoofs on those ewes on the Fourth.

We try not to herd sheep around here on the theory that it is better to lead than to follow.

Here is my bride AKA “The Corn Goddess” leading the beasties to their pedicure session.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Around the house and around the farm we use tools and equipment all the time to accomplish what we want to do.

I’ve noticed that at any given time some of these contraptions are broken.

At the moment my riding lawn mower and my weed whacker are both in the shop. That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that the most critical piece of equipment on the place is out of commission.

That’s right, my easy chair is busted! Bummer!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Farmers Market?

I get occasional junk mail from the County Agent. This is actually the extension service from the Ag school at the University of Florida. I’m not sure how that is different from the County Agent, but I guess it is.

Last week I got a newsletter that contained a little blurb about a meeting that was scheduled for Friday evening about possibly starting a farmers market in one of the little towns about 4 or 5 miles from our place.

I thought this might be a good place to market my eggs. My bride and I went to check it out.

I guess I expected a bunch of farmers and market gardeners discussing who grows what and how to make sure prospective customers have a wide array of things to buy.

What went on was rather different.

There were two or three other farmers. There were half a dozen quazi official types. The Mayor of the town was there. The County agent, like I said, as well as his counterpart from the next county over. One woman was some sort of expert on starting farmers markets. I couldn’t tell if she worked for some level of government or was a freelance consultant.

The discussion was all about parking, permits, license and whether it (the farmers market) should be run by the city or some corporate entity that would need to be created.

One lady did mention that she approved of farmers markets because the food there was usually better than what is on offer at the grocery store. Other than that I don’t think anyone mentioned what would be sold there or where it would come from.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that the best way to get me muttering four letter words under my breath is to expose me to any sort of bureaucracy. Mostly under my breath.

Around here farmers markets are mainly in the cities. In rural areas like where we are folks just put up roadside stands if they want to sell something. I’ve considered doing this myself but I don’t think we have enough of a product line to make it worth stopping at or enough time to run it properly.

It is also possible that a farmers market could provide some cover from the risk of official ambush.

WARNING! RANT ALERT! WARNING! (This next bit is an attempt at humor, how successful the attempt is left to the reader) :-)

What I mean by official ambush is something like this; we have a willing buyer and a willing seller agreeing to transfer ownership of some property at a mutually agreeable price.

Next thing you know, some third party shows up and identifies themselves as a duly appointed representative of the Bureau of Broccoli, Bean Sprouts, Bok Choy, and other vegetables having names beginning with the letter “B”. They demand to know where your form 544C/2 is.

Perhaps this joker can simply be referred to the market manager on the grounds that the market itself is protected by an official entity exempt from their authority.

It is also possible that the market manager, thinking of his own career, may decide to condemn in the strongest term any vendor who would dare contemplate working the market without a proper form 544C/2.

Busted! Conspiracy to commit agriculture! Bad Farmer!


So we'll see where this all goes. Obviously I’m skeptical but I do have some hope this could be useful. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Low stress chicken

I like fried chicken as it happens. But I don’t care for it until it is purposely cooked up.

The other day the temperature got up into the high nineties, along with the humidity. This is typical Florida summertime stuff, just a little early is all.

Most of the critters here just find a shady place to lie about through the hottest part of the day, no problem. These Cornish Cross broiler chickens are not as hearty as normal chickens though and I had a few that used the heat as an excuse to drop dead.

Prematurely fried chicken, not good.

In the past I just raised these birds in the fall. Temperatures would get lower as the birds grew bigger and I didn’t have any problems.

I have a fan in my shop that I used years ago when I would tune up an air-cooled Motorcycle engine. It kept it from overheating when I ran it for a long while when it was not moving.

The chickens seem to enjoy it. They are obviously much more comfortable.

No more heat stress.

They sit in front of the fan like a dog with its head out the car window.

My young laying hens coped with the heat just fine, but then tropical storm Alberto came by and blew the roof off their pen.

I was intending to remove the pen to integrate them with the older hens. This just caused that plan to speed up.

No smashed hens by the way.

There has been less fighting among the hens than I expected, the young ones have accepted a lower spot in the pecking order, and that seemed to satisfy the older (and larger) hens.

In the nearby photo they are all roosting together in the hoop house.

Monday, June 12, 2006

When the farm bill comes due

Have you heard that work has begun on the new farm bill? Our esteemed public servants have begun the process of setting out place cards at the public trough.

Meetings are taking place between the captains of corporate agribusiness and public sector types that oversee things like food stamps and school lunches.

Of course this has almost nothing to do with farming and everything to do with politics, but before its over those of us who do raise crops and/or livestock will likely have a whole new set of things to worry about and defend ourselves against.

This unholy alliance between the corporate hustlers and the poverty pimps will probably not be content to simply plunder the public treasury and let it go at that, at least they have not done so in the past.

I can’t guess what new problems these folks will send our way.

When I was a kid people commonly made jokes about how the government paid farmers not to grow crops. They paid by the acre you see, so if you didn’t grow 1000 acres of corn you got more money than if you didn’t grow only 100 acres of corn.

The latest batch of foolishness makes that look reasonable. Now I’m supposed to install radio id chips in my livestock and notify the Feds when my horse goes out for a trail ride. All at my own expense of course. We call this NAIS.

And then there’s the bird flu. The chickens on my farm are not locked up in some warehouse like the ones that belong to Tyson’s. At the first sign of trouble you can bet the Ag department folks will drive right past any number of giant poultry gulags on their way to destroy my birds and any other backyard flocks in the area.

I guess they think my chickens may pop off to visit relatives in China and come home with a social disease.

I was reading the other day that most customers for direct-marketed alternative agricultural products are women who are involved with home schooling. I hadn’t noticed that before, but it agrees with my experience. From all points of the political compass mind you, but all home school folks.

It used to be that keeping your kids out of public school was a major legal problem. People did jail time for it. It was considered a form of child abuse and still is in several states. Just like selling raw milk and on farm butchering of livestock.

I would rather have a seat on the old picket fence than deal with what seems like the endless stream of petty tyrannies being launched at the small farmer.

Some advocate the formation of some sort of political special interest group to defend our selves, a sort of anti-establishment establishment I guess. Still, this lifestyle is as much about individualism as anything. I’ve never been much of a joiner.

So we must out smart them, fortunately that’s not too hard.

I would never sell poultry that was not processed in a licensed and approved facility, you know, with 4000 sq ft of heated and air conditioned floor space and ADA compliant bath rooms, men and ladies. But if you would like to contract with me to raise a live bird for you, I can clean it for you for free when the time comes.

I would never sell un-pasteurized milk, but if you want to buy a part interest in this cow, what you do with your milk is your business.

At no point in my life have I learned so much so fast as I have here on the farm. Talk about home schooling.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Updates on the poultry and the garden

It's Sunday afternoon and normally I'd be out working.

But the temperature outside at the moment is almost exactly at the boiling point of human flesh, so I thought I’d goof off and update the blog here in my cozy air conditioned office.

I did postings for each batch of chickens when they arrived as day old peeps but have not mentioned their progress.

I also mentioned when I planted the garden but have not done an update on that project either.

First an update on the garden.

This is not a regular vegetable garden; it’s a small-scale field crop experiment. It is a very basic planting.

I know zip about field crops, my experience with plant agriculture consists of watching the occasional houseplant die of neglect.

My goal is to replace some or all of the feed we buy for the livestock. This should be possible for the sheep at least, because they don’t need much feed beyond the forage that we have plenty of. The chickens are a different story.

I planted corn and cowpeas.

Peas alone, corn alone, and corn and peas mixed. Corn was planted in rows about 30 inches apart, cowpeas down the middle of the rows.

The peas did fine on thier own, the corn and peas mixed did well. The corn alone did poorly. The soil here is not very good, beach sand with very little else in it.

The laying hens.

Today I started the process of mixing the young laying hens and the older ones. They have been next to each other since the young ones came out of the brooder separated by some poultry netting. I joined the netting so they are now in one big enclosure but I left both pens inside for now.

This was done after the nearby picture was taken.

I added roosting space to the hoop house and will remove the small pen sometime soon.

Chickens can be rather vicious to strange birds, best to do the integration gradually.


These birds are the radishes of the animal kingdom. They start out tiny, grow huge and are harvested in almost no time.

I just raise these in a scaled down Salatin style pen that I move to a new patch of grass each day. These are about halfway between the egg and the dinner plate.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Lambing season is now over

The last of the ewes has had her lambs. Ewe number 416 had twin ram lambs late last night. They weighed in at 10lbs 2oz and 9lbs 7oz.

So here is how we did on the season. We started with 16 breed ewes.

One miscarried about 6 weeks before she was due. She had had a lamb born dead last year. She was moved in with the dry ewes and will be culled.

We had 14 ram lambs and 12 ewe lambs, a total of 26 lambs. I figure that to be a 168.75% lambing rate, respectable especially considering that most of the ewes are first time mamas.

And one heifer calf for good measure.

Monday, May 29, 2006

A little time for the bovine

In the interest of diversity and multi-species grazing, we present this little beast, born this morning at 10:30 or so.

Annie the heifer is now Annie the cow. The calf is a heifer.

The whole neighborhood was in on the event. John, my neighbor to the east and the owner of Turbo, the bull that is the daddy of this calf, called me to tell me of the event. He had witnessed the birth from his field just across the fence.

Shortly after that Stan and Michelle, our neighbors to the West happened by and inspected the new calf and all the new lambs.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Two sets of twins

Last evening ewe number 5 had a set of twins, both female. One weighed 8lbs 13oz the other 7lbs even. This ewe is a Katahdin St Croix cross.

Early today ewe number 1 had one ram lamb and one ewe lamb weighing 8lbs 8oz and 6lbs 14oz respectively. This ewe is a Katahdin Barbados cross and is my wife’s special pet.

This leaves just one ewe that has yet to lamb. She is still out there doing a very convincing impersonation of Java the Hut.

Here is a bonus picture from the “Too cute not to publish” file.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Single lamb

Ewe number 414 had a single ram lamb weighing 7lbs 9oz. She is one of the ewes that lambed last year.

I bet both my readers will be relived when lambing is over and I put some more variety back in this blog. Me too. Only three ewes left, soon I hope.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Two ewes, three lambs

We have this black-headed Dorper ewe with tag number 411. She has a puppy-chewed ear. My bride calls her floppy.

We have been telling each other for weeks that she was going to lamb any minute. She was enormous and had developed a bag like a Holstein.

Last night was the night. She seemed like she was OK to me, but my bride wanted to hang out with her and did.

She had twins that weighed 11 lbs 4 oz and 9 lbs even, over 20 lbs of lamb, she had every right to be huge!

Early today ewe number 410 a single lamb at 10 lbs 4 oz. This ewe is rather small and she had some trouble with this monster. One hoof was folded back; they should come out with both front hooves and the nose together. Again my bride played midwife and other than one very exhausted ewe, everybody’s fine.

The lamb is only minutes old in this picture, mama hasn’t even cleaned it off yet.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Yet another set of twin lambs

Our ewe number 2, a funny looking beast which is at least part Blue Faced Leicester, gave birth to twin lambs, one male one female, early today.

We are now at the break-even point, fifteen lambs from fifteen ewes.

The good news is that six of the fifteen ewes have not yet lambed. Some of the remaining ewes are simply enormous! They are either going to have a litter of six or fifty pound lambs.

Broiler Chickens

I’d been meaning to order a batch of broilers for the last few weeks but just never seemed to get around to it.

We have none left in our freezer; I gave the last one to a woman who wanted to get on my customer list and had a special event she wanted chicken for.

I haven’t been pushing the broiler enterprise very hard; I’ve just done 50 a year for the last two years.

Still people really like these chickens and the chicken customers often end up buying other things and referring new chicken customers.

I have good facilities for raising up to a few hundred birds a year, not good enough for more than that. I built the Whizbang Pucker last summer. If I grow the enterprise much I’ll need to build the scalder.

I got a call the other day from a (prospective) new customer, and that finally motivated me to place the order.

I use Welp Hatchery, the same place I got the new layers. These birds are Cornish Cross peeps and after being hatched Tuesday showed up at the Post Office today. The Post Office called about 7AM asking me to come pick them up.

They are in the brooder now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lambs being cute

Here is a short (about 5 minutes) video clip that we hope gives you a chuckle. If you have a slow connection you may want to pass on this, but it works OK on DSL.

Lambs being cute video clip

Bonus Lamb

Ewe number 6 was the first lamb born here last year.

In fact she is still just under one year old.

She is fairly small and I did not even think she was pregnant.

This morning early she had a single rather small ram lamb. They both seem to be doing fine.

I had not been counting her among the ewes yet to lamb. As a matter of fact I was planning to mover her in with the dry ewes as soon as it was practical, no reason to give extra feed to an open ewe.

Just for this she gets to stay on the feed. This is a bonus!